An overview of The 8 Writing Wastes can be found here: Are you committing these 8 Writing Wastes? (The 8th Writing Waste is a killer)

Writing Waste 4. Waiting for the right time, permission or inspiration

The duvet naan[1] had been devoured, the spicy sauces had been dipped, the plates were being cleared away, “Wait! Leave me those chutney bowls, the side plates and a balti dish,” we weren’t finished yet.

During the “team building event” (aka: take a long Friday lunch) I’d heard a couple of my guys saying how stressed they were about new technology, how things were always changing, just when they thought they knew something it all changed again, and that they always felt just a little bit behind. I grabbed the balti dish, and said: “Everything inside this dish is my knowledge, right now. The perimeter of the dish is where what I know hits what I don’t know. Out there…” I pointed to the remains of poppadoms, half drunk coke, general debris, other diners, “…is the infinity of what I don’t know.”

There’s always a square plate!

I pulled the other plates over and started shoving them together, just slightly overlapping the edges, to form a jumbled mess of curry and crumbs. “Each of you has your own plate of knowledge, and when we stick all the plates together we have some overlapping knowledge and stuff each of you know that the others don’t. Together we create a bigger mass of knowledge, and also a bigger perimeter where what we know hits the outside infinity of what we don’t know. Every time we increase our circles of knowledge, we also increase our perimeter of what we don’t know. It’s inevitable. The more you know the more you know you don’t know.”

Well, that’s how I remember the conversation – they probably just remember the curry and playing with plates.

We’ve been calling this my “Plates Theory” for the last 20 years.[2]

Every time I lay the plates to eat I remind myself of how much (and how little) I know.

If you are waiting to write your erroneous reasoning goes something like: I’ll write when I’ve finished my next degree, coached 100 more people, tested my model on three more clients. If you wait until you know enough, you will wait forever. 

One of the most crippling wastes for an expert is assuming you don’t know enough – that debilitating doubt increases with every article read, seminar given, question answered, team member coached. If you didn’t have that doubt you’d be an ass (remember we don’t want to be asses). As your domain, and expert knowledge increases, so does your knowledge of what you don’t know.

Waiting – for whatever reason – is a waste. The time to write is now.

There are usually two things people are waiting for when they waste time:

  1. Waiting to write, and
  2. Waiting for readers.

Both are deadly wastes of time and resources, and feed each other in a vicious wasteful circle of doom, sadness and over-sized bread products!

1. Waiting for the right time, permission or inspiration to write

Waiting till you know enough will mean you wait forever. There is always more to learn, you just need to be one chapter ahead.

Waiting until you have the time to write means you won’t write. You will never have enough time to write a book. I promise you.

Waiting for the economy, Brexit, markets, AI to change everything is an excuse. You change things to fit the current circumstances, work within your constraints.

Waiting for permission from your peers, colleagues, mom, other half is a waste. You don’t need anyone’s permission, you’re a big kid now.

Waiting for the muse, inspiration, special meme day means you’re messing about. You will never be ‘struck by inspiration and suddenly get in the flow.’ That’s not how it works.

2. Waiting till you have some readers to write

This is a super catch-22. You’re waiting for readers before you put your best stuff out there. But the readers are waiting for your best stuff before they put their hands up and say they’re interested. As an expert who is writing (who wants to be read, because you have something important to share) you must start marketing (ooohhh, scary word) right now. You need to create a body of work that demonstrates your knowledge, shows your interest in your readers, and how you can help them.

You need a platform (your website). You need content (your writing, videos, podcasts). You need a method of capturing the readers (not physically, their email address is good enough) who are truly interested (newsletter). Then you need to write more just for them (focus). I’ll cover more about writing to market yourself as an expert in a later article.

In The Decision Book by Mikael Krogerus and Roman Tschäppeler they ask: “When was the last time you did something for the first time?” And you must have heard (at least a thousand times) that, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”

Perhaps today you write and publish something for the first time. Even without an audience. Let me know if you do.

How to fix waiting to write

The best way to fix waiting for the right time is to get a better perspective on time. In particular your own time left on the planet.

When you wait you waste – you don’t have time to waste – none of us do.

Don’t take my word for it. If you’re feeling brave, curious or masochistic go and fill in your details on this wonderfully named “Death Clock” – it’s run by an insurance company, so obviously they have a vested interest in selling you life insurance, but it will give you a wake up call. Or nightmares!

In The Courage to Be Disliked [3], Ichiro Kishimi and Fumitake Koga say: “The important thing is not what one is born with, but what use one makes of that equipment.” So make use of your equipment before it falls off.

I have two tools for you. My first is inspired by Tim Urban of Wait But Why, a wonderful writer who manages to make the most complex things simple, and fun. He sketched and wrote a huge article on Your Life in Weeks, I read it a few years ago, and it has really stuck with me. Now, I’m going to model it (rip it off) for you. You’re welcome.

Tool 1: Your Life in Bars [4]

Put a big X where you are right now (your age) on the lovingly drawn diagram.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  1. How many years do I have left to get my ideas, message, help out there to the people who need to hear it?
  2. Where am I wasting the most time?
  3. How could I use that wasted time to get my writing written?
  4. If I don’t do it now, when?
  5. If I don’t write this book, article, speech, who will?

Tool 2: Future You!

I’ve shared this one before. It’s worth sharing again because it works. Go and send yourself a future you decision email.

If your time is short, it makes sense to make the best use of your time and stop wasting it. Seneca said: “We are not given a short life but we make it short, and we are not ill-supplied but wasteful of it.” Stop making your life short by waiting – write.

The decision you make today to write your book, publish your writing, share an article, do that Ted talk will impact you in the future. Tell your future self what you have decided today.

Our time is finite, only knowledge (and duvet naan) is infinite. Make the time to be the one who helps, entertains, educates those people who know a little less than you. Grow their perimeter of knowledge.

Solution to waiting to write: Make a decision that writing your book (article, whitepaper, speech) is the right solution for you and your business goals. Start now!


[1] Duvet naan or family naan is an invention of the Balti Triangle in Birmingham – a naan bread made for sharing, that covers the table (for a few seconds before everyone dives in).

[2] The plates theory was inspired by this quote: “The larger the island of knowledge, the longer the shoreline of wonder.” ― Ralph W. Sockman

[3] If you’re finding it difficult to start writing, then read The Courage to Be Disliked by Ichiro Kishimi and Fumitake Koga. Apparently it’s a “Japanese phenomenon” which helps liberate your way of thinking, allowing you to develop the courage to change and ignore the limitations that you might be placing on yourself. I really liked the story.

[4] Just making sure you get the reference – “Your Life in Bars” – the bars you are putting in front of yourself, that are incarcerating you, holding you back… I didn’t want you to miss my clever pun, or think I was suggesting you go to a bar or two!

PS: As you lay the plates for your next meal, smile, and appreciate how much you actually know about your subject. You can thank my good friend, Rintu Basu, for showing me how to put little hooks in your mind. Every time I brush my teeth I think of Rintu.